Many cameras find themselves pointed west from Costa Rica’s renowned northern Pacific coast, capturing fiery sunsets over the azure sea.
In “Guanacaste: Life Portraits,” a book of photographs published last year, photographer Zoraida Díaz turns around and trains her lens on the landscape and people found inland from the “Gold Coast.”
“I found that Guanacaste was like a secret. Everybody knows Costa Rica because of its natural beauty, and that includes the beautiful beaches of the northern Pacific and the volcanoes,” Díaz said. “But I felt that nobody really knows how amazing and diverse the culture of Guanacaste is, and nobody had really taken a look at these people and done a cohesive body of work on that.”
Throughout the book, Díaz presents a rich and textured vision of the province she has called home for the past several years, capturing the fiestas, traditions, towns, characters and natural settings of Guanacaste.
Díaz, a Colombian-born photojournalist who spent much of her professional life covering South America for the news agency Reuters, draws many of her photos from the pages of The Beach Times, a newspaper she co-founded in 2004 with former husband Ralph Nicholson in Playa Potrero.
“The project was born of the last five years of work at The Beach Times. At the end of 2007, I just had so many images, I didn’t know where to put them,” Díaz said.
Habitual readers of the paper, now online only, may recognize some of the images, which anchored the paper’s front page and illustrated its stories on development, politics and life in the northwestern province.
Other photos came from the archives of unpublished images, and many more were added as Díaz worked on the book, looking to fill in areas she felt were missing.
The images tell of the often simple life of the region, traditionally built around cattle and farming and now adapting to an unforeseen boom of tourism and construction.
A young girl peers out from the coffee bushes where she works harvesting beans. Three men – one mounted on horseback – sip beers outside the town store. Baby turtles push up through black sand. A doorman in a jacket a few sizes too large waits for tickets outside a circus called Chicharrón y sus Estrellas (Pork Rind and his Superstars). Page after page shows both the daily rituals and special occasions that make up life here, set to the backdrop of Guanacaste’s landscapes.
The book is split into sections touching on the people, the sea, the festivals and other themes in Díaz’s photography. These sections are prefaced with short essays, presented in Spanish and English, by some of the region’s most knowledgeable and authoritative voices, including folk singers Guadalupe Urbina and Eduardo “Balo” Gómez, journalist José Manuel Peña and marine biologist Giovanni Bassey.
“Being a photographer, I always thought that you don’t need words if you have good pictures,” Díaz said. “But in the end, it seemed like there was something missing.” “(The words) really added to the book. It was like the voice of Guanacaste made my pictures stronger,” she said. “The collaboration was amazing.”
“Guanacaste: Life Portraits” is available for about $43 at Universal department stores, Librería Internacional bookstores, Café Britt souvenir shops, Jaime Peligro bookstore in Tamarindo and Marie’s restaurant in Flamingo.
In addition, some 13,000 copies of the book were donated to the nonprofit afterschool center CEPIA, based in Tamarindo, which is selling them in several coastal towns in Guanacaste. Proceeds will help fund the group’s programs.